Select Page

Self-Harm is Not Always Visible: Emotional Self-Harm through Damaging Coping Mechanisms

by | Mar 21, 2022 | Self-Harm

Forward, Together with western tidewater community services board

When we hear the term self-harm most of us think of self-inflicted wounds.

Self-harm is an act of purposely hurting yourself, either physically or emotionally, as a coping mechanism.

Both physical and emotional self-harm serve that same purpose.

Emotional self-harm is not physically visible, but it can be just as damaging to your well-being as physical self-harm in the long run.

Our Inner-Critic and Negative Coping Mechanisms (Emotional Self-Harm)

For many of us, our inner critic can wreak more havoc on our mental health than it would if someone were to criticize us in person.

When a person says something to us that we deem derogatory, we can choose to let it run off our backs. We can let it go in a flash. But when our inner critic speaks to us, “I am useless,” “I am always making a mistake,” “I will never succeed at anything,” we believe it when we are self-critical.

We internalize the words that we hear when we partake in self-harm, and we often turn on our absolute thoughts (i.e., always, never, forever, etc.), and it sticks with us. It accumulates, and it erodes our mental well-being.

To deal with the criticism, we engage in negative coping mechanisms. (Looking for help in healthy ways to cope with life’s problems? Click here)

The behaviors of emotional self-harm typically stem from one or several painful mental health problems:

Poor Self Image

We believe that we are not good enough and we doubt our capabilities.


We are hard on ourselves in many aspects of our lives, filling ourselves with shame and insecurities.

Negative Outlook

We expect only the worst to happen in our lives.

When our lives consist of these mentally damaging beliefs and expectations, we use destructive coping mechanisms to adapt.

The most common patterns that are indicative of unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Withdrawing or avoiding issues that lead to anxiety or fear
  • Patterns of poor relationships (abusive or harmful relationships)
  • Inability to maintain relationships
  • Thoughts of harming oneself
  • Internalizing conflicted emotions (refusing to seek help)
  • Taking poor care of self
  • Use and overuse of addictive substances (drugs, alcohol, smoking)
  • Eating disorders (eating too much or too little)
  • People-pleasing (putting others first at our own expense)
  • Constantly feeling bad about oneself (shame, guilt, insecurity)
  • Body image issues

How to Overcome Emotional Self-Harm

We all have an inner critic. It helps us to recognize when we have done something wrong, and when we need to make things right.

Some of us have an inner critic that is much harsher than others, and typically this is formed early in life from the things that we hear or experience as we are growing up. This can also occur after many years spent as an adult in an abusive situation.

Our inner critic tends to speak loudly to us in these conditions and then we unconsciously learn to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms that offer us little to no mental support.

The first step in overcoming emotional self-harm is awareness. Without awareness, we cannot turn off our inner critic. With awareness, it becomes possible to create a mindset that not only recognizes the voice of our inner critic but also helps us to develop healthy reactions and behaviors.

  • We then give ourselves credit for what we achieve in life.
  • We remind ourselves of our values, and how we honor our values.
  • We acknowledge our strengths, and we do not beat ourselves up for our weaknesses.
  • We admit our mistakes, and we correct what we can, and then we let it go.

This battle, though, is often deep-seated internally, with many layers that have formed over an accumulation of years.

Therefore, many people benefit greatly from therapy.

Therapy helps us to uncover the root cause of our emotional self-harm, and it helps us to practice beneficial coping mechanisms, so we form healthy habits that last.

Helping You Move Forward with Purpose

At Western Tidewater CSB, your relief is our priority, and we are always available and accessible to all.

Whether it be you, your child, or someone you love who needs to break through the barriers of emotional self-harm, we provide mental health counseling that helps individuals develop coping skills and confidence that creates personal change.

We offer hope and relief!

If you are in a crisis, we offer Same Day Access.

If you would like to set up an appointment, please call us at (757) 758-5106, or we invite you to start the intake process online by clicking here.


Latest Posts

How we Help

Announcements and News


WTCSB Services

We provide integrated services and relief for multiple mental health needs, support for individuals with developmental disabilities, and substance abuse help.

Same Day Access

Our exclusive Same-Day Access to care and 24/7 crisis intervention means our caring team of clinicians and counselors are always within reach.

Who We Are

Western Tidewater CSB is the leading authority in mental health and developmental services in Franklin, Suffolk, Isle of Wight County, and Southampton County. Learn more about what truly sets us apart.